Monday, December 19, 2011

Not Bad for a Human by Lance Henriksen

Lance Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey. Not Bad for a Human. Canada: Bloody Pulp Books, 2011.

Lance Henriksen began painting at age 15 and threw himself into his art.  He added pottery as a passion.  He dedicates himself to his work without deciding when starting what it will be when he ends.  He then went into acting, which he handled with the same philosophy which he calls “compulsive energy”.  He went into narration and voice over work.  He feels consistent with director Sidney Lumet’s philosophy of “I don’t want life reproduced up there on the screen.  I want life created.”

Actor Charles During advised Henriksen that Henriksen’s unusual looks meant he would get more roles when he was older.  This proved correct. 

Henricksen’s father was a Merchant Marine who was seldom around.  He spent time in children’s homes where he regularly defied authority.  He didn’t learn to read.  He had only three years of grammar school.  He worked the streets as a shoeshine boy.  His uncles pleaded with him to earn more for the family by deliberately getting hit by a car, to which he refused.  He ran away from home and kept running, doing odd jobs along the way. He snuck into a theater and watched a play.  When he saw the actors swear on stage, and observed how the audience loved it, he knew he wanted to be an actor.  He walked into the Actors Studio, announced he wanted to be an actor, was told he was too young, and he was kicked out. That frustrations made him decided to become a man.  He joined the Navy, in part, to mimic his father’s life.

Henriksen was 16 when he joined the Navy, and lied by saying he was the minimum age of 17.  He enjoyed having friends and being challenged.  He was given responsibility, which taught him about himself.  His mother made the Navy give him 30 days emergency leave because she had no money during winter.  He realized he couldn’t do anything about that, so he ran away again.  He made it to Denver where he was arrested for not paying rent.  He was then arrested for being AWOL.  When in the brig, another prisoner threatened to kill him.  Henriksen decided to act first and beat the guy with wooden shower shoes.  After release, he tried to escape again, het his vehicle caught fire after going just 500 yards.  He was expelled from the Navy and given $15.

Henriksen used the money to buy funny looking clothes, in protest against the world.  He hitchhiked and was picked up by a guy in a stolen vehicle.  He spent four months in jail awaiting trial on charges he was involved in stealing the vehicle.  The Judge let him go and he went back to traveling.  He returned to art, received a commission for murals, yet they were rejected.  He then went overseas.

Henriksen was jailed for vagrancy in Tucson in 1960.  A film crew was in town filming the TV show “Sunday Showcase”.  He pleaded for help and he received $5 for being an extra.  He went to Boston and auditioned for a part as a mime.  Out of a block long line of mimes, he and a friend got two of the four mime parts. He saved an act when a foam rubber golden calf fell and he mimed as if it the fall were part of the act.  The mime artist, Claude Kipnis, was impressed and offered Henriksen work in a touring company.  Henriksen ironically played a prisoner in the play “The Brig” in San Francisco.

Until this point, the mostly illiterate Henriksen did not need to rely on written words.  His acting was being “on just being”.  He wanted to “live as the character” and not as someone else’s written words.

Henriksen won the lead role in a Eugene O’Neill play at the Masterworks Laboratory Theatre in New York.  He didn’t realize he had the lead role until rehearsals.  He would land several roles, usually as an angry person, in New York and Boston theaters.

Henriksen hung around the Actor’s Studio.  He could observe and attend meetings.  He never auditioned to become a member.  He disliked Leo Strassberg.

Henrikson studied Method acting and placing his own memories and emotions into his roles.

His first movie was “It Ain’t Easy” in 1972.  It was critically slammed. He then did some more plays.  In 1973, his next movie roles was in “To Kill the King”.  He couldn’t identify with the part.  Still, he continued during film work.  He was hired to work in the movie ”Dog Day Afternoon” with director Sidney Lumet..  Henriksen observed how Lumet directed. 

Henriksen’s next film was “Close Encounters of the Third King”, where he worked for six months for less than two minutes of film time.  The director, Steven Spielberg, didn’t like it when Henrikson suggested a plot change.

Henriksen filmed several horror films, including “Damien: Omen II”.  He was in “Piranha 2” as directed by James Cameron.  In that film, he broke his hand diving 40 feet from a helicopter, accidentally drove a boat onto a dock, and his helicopter almost collided, almost stalled, and crashed.  Cameron was impressed by the risks Henriksen was silling to take and also in his interest in the acting process.

Henriksen appeared on the TV soup “Ryan’s Hope” for two days.  He didn’t like the acting work there, which he thought was awful.  He turned down a three year contract of $50,000 for the first year, $75,000 for the second year, and $100,000 for the third year.  Instead, he had a few minor roles during that time.  He had a role as a hostage negotiator on “Cagney and Lacey” which went so well it is used in a government film for training hostage negotiators.

Henriksen appeared as Wally Schirra in “The Right Stuff”.  He then helped James Cameron negotiate approve to film “The Terminator”.  Henriksen turned down the role later given to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He didn’t regret this.  Instead, he took the role of Hal Vukovich.

James Cameron brought Henriksen back in the “Alien” sequel.  Henriksen did conceptual drawings and hired a costume designer to give himself ideas on how the role should be played.  Henriksen reached into emotions from his youth for this part.  He lost weight the role and tried taking on the physical characteristics of the parts he had.  He would attempt to remain in character to better understand his roles,  Henriken notes that the greatest villains are not those that committed a lot of violence, but those that has a lot of power.

In playing comedy in HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”, Henriksen was successful by not acting as it if were a comedy.  That tone worked better.

In the movie “Stone Cold”, Henriksen immersed himself into his character. He improvised his lines and the director realized Henrikson understood his character more than was in the script.

Henriksen found it difficult to empathize with his sadistic character in “The Pit and the Pendulum”.  Henriksen adopted a primal life style during the shooting by walking barefoot and having only bread and water.

During filming “Gunfighter’s Moon”, his friend Rex Rossi, a stuntman, suffered a heart attack on the set.  The cast and crew had to keep shooting during the two hours waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  Fortunately, Rossi survived.

Henriksen was on the TV series “Millennium”.  He discovered that TV work involved long hours over continuous weeks.  He found learning 60 pages of script each week for 22 weeks “overwhelming”.  His acting challenge was to bring a human touch to horrific scenes so that they would appear real.  Henrikson worked with director Thomas J. Wright on developing his character.  He wanted closure for his character and he received it when series creator Chris Carter had his character appear on Carter’s next series “X Files”.  Afterwards, Henriksen devoted more time to his family and newborn daughter.

Henriksen’s voice attracted voice over work.  He did a voice on the animated “Tarzan” movie.  Narration work followed by voiceover work in video games.

Henriksen advises low budget filmmakers not to compete with a large budget movie.  He urges finding some originality that will make the movie different and special.

Henriksen had the role of a dying man in “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”.  He smoked four packs of cigarettes a day to make his voice sound sickly.

Henriksen observed “when I’m acting, I’m admitting who I am”. He finds it difficult, after completing a film, waiting until he finds more acting work.

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